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Head of metro bus agency resigns after reported pressure from Kansas City officials

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Julie Denesha
/
KCUR 89.3
Robbie Makinen, CEO of KCATA from 2016-2022.

Robbie Makinen, who's led the agency since 2016, reportedly resisted a "money grab" by top Kansas City officials who sought millions in federal pandemic recovery funds awarded to the KCATA in order to pay for new streetlights.

Robbie Makinen has stepped down as president and chief executive of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, the agency that provides bus and other transit services to the Kansas City metro.

Makinen has led the KCATA since 2016.

After several hours meeting behind closed doors Wednesday, KCATA’s board of commissioners voted to accept Makinen’s resignation.

“The Board wants to express its appreciation for Robbie’s service to KCATA, first as a Commissioner and then as its CEO,” said KCATA board chair Melissa Bynum. “Under Robbie’s leadership, KCATA has been an innovator in public transit, expanding the mission of KCATA beyond bus service to include things like the RideKC Bike+Scooter program, and the Zero Fare initiative that all but eliminated fares for those using KCATA buses.”

Makinen also received credit for other new initiatives, including a previous program that allowed military veterans to ride buses for free, and a ride-hailing service for passengers with disabilities.

Wednesday’s resignation comes nearly a month after the Kansas City Star reported that Makinen’s hold on his job was tenuous. That’s after Makinen resisted what the newspaper described as a “money grab” and “hardball tactics” by top Kansas City officials, who sought some $20 million in federal pandemic recovery funds awarded to the KCATA to pay for new streetlights.

Kansas City officials have also recently expressed their frustrations about the quality and reliability of KCATA bus service in the city.

Even though the KCATA is a regional organization created by Congress in the 1960s — and serves several counties in both Missouri and Kansas — it gets most of its local funding from Kansas City, via two sales taxes that voters approved for transportation purposes.

The Star reported that Michael Shaw, Kansas City’s public works director, told KCATA officials in January that the transit agency would pay for the new streetlights, or else the city would divert transit sales tax money away from the KCATA.

KCATA has operated without a contract with Kansas City since May, meaning the agency has continued to provide bus service to Kansas City without receiving the sales tax funding for it, according to agency documents. The KCATA reported that it had $10 million less than it budgeted for through June, in large part because it hadn’t received money from Kansas City.

After Makinen’s resignation, a new contract between Kansas City and KCATA was approved at Wednesday’s meeting.

The KCATA will search for a new chief executive to replace Makinen, who was a member of the agency’s board of commissioners from 2007 to 2015, including a five-year stint as board chair before becoming its chief executive.

Steve Vockrodt is the investigative editor for the Midwest Newsroom.
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